Letter submitted to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on November 13, 2017
I write to lend my support to the Defiance College football players who have knelt during the playing of the national anthem. I commend them for their courage, knowing that most local residents oppose their actions. Their continued protest has brought calls for discipline, including expulsion from school. I commend college administrators and coaches for not bowing to public pressure to silence protest. These students, along with their counterparts in professional sports, need to be heard. Their protests have nothing to do with respect for the military or flag.
What lies behind their kneeling is inequality, injustice, and racism. While these issues might seem to locals to be the problems of urban areas, the truth is that we denizens of rural Northwest Ohio have our own problems related to these things. I recently participated in a forum discussion on racism in Northwest Ohio. Having lived most of my sixty years of life in this area, I can say with great certainty that we are not immune from charges of racism and injustice. We may hide it better, covering it with white, middle-class Christian respectability, but it exists, nonetheless.
Years ago, my family and I walked into a church towards the end of the adult Sunday school class. Teaching the class was a matronly white woman — a pillar of the church. She was telling the class that her grandson was not getting playing time on the college football team because blacks got all the playing time. She reminded me of a retired white school teacher I knew when I lived in Southeast Ohio. At the time, we had a black foster daughter. I had just started a new church in the area, and we were looking for a house to rent. This school teacher had a house available, so we agreed to rent it. When it came time to pick up the keys, she told us she decided to rent to someone else. We later learned that she said she wasn’t going to have a ni***r living in her house.
These stories are apt reminders of what lies underneath our country respectability. It is time we quit wrapping ourselves in the flag, pretending that racism, inequality, and injustice doesn’t exist. Our flag and anthem represent many things, but for many Americans, they represent oppression and denial of human rights; and it is for these reasons, among others, that players kneel.
Note: I realize this is a long post, but it was impossible for me to address the issue of racism in 1,200 words or less. I hope you will read to the end, and then share your thoughts in the comment section. I would also appreciate you sharing this post on social media.
Donald Trump. What more can be said about the orange-haired toddler currently inhabiting the White House. Fair-minded people see Trump as a narcissistic psychopath whose entire approach to policy and governing can be summed up in one word — winning. In recent weeks, mental health professionals have begun to question the president’s sanity and mental fitness. Could it be that the millions of people who voted for my dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick Trump were duped by a man who is mentally unfit for office? Or is Trump more like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — a man who is artfully manipulating the system for his own good. Looking at the tax overhaul plan released today by Trump, I would suggest the latter. The president is asking Congress to reduce the number of tax rates, while also reducing the rate on the highest tax bracket from thirty-nine percent to thirty-five. Trump also wants Congress to do away with the estate tax, drastically reduce corporate tax rates, and fundamentally change how American corporate profits earned overseas are taxed. The big winners in the president’s plan are millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations. In other words, Trump wins big, to the tune of millions of dollars a year in reduced taxes. And when he dies his vast estate would be passed on to his heirs tax-free. Talk about winning. Trump wins on both sides of the grave.
None of the above surprises me in the least. Trump is the culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to gut the federal government, impoverish the states, and reward wealthy capitalists for their political support. Begun by Saint Ronald Reagan with what George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics, Republican economic policies are now such that there can be no doubt that their end game is the enslavement of the working class and poor and the enrichment of the corporate oligarchs who now rule (and own, bought and paid for with campaign donations) federal and state governments. And these haters of progressive values are not finished. We still have Paul Ryan and his Tea Party cohorts masturbating to a statute of Ayn Rand with Adam’s Smith invisible hand. These despisers of the poor will not rest until all the social progress gained since World War II is returned to the “hell” from whence it came. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Gun Control Act, Welfare, Food Stamps, Obamacare — gone, gone, gone! In its place is a resurgent wild west where corporations are free to misuse and abuse their employees, pollute waterways, foul the air, and donate millions to politicians who do the bidding of their business overlords (along with a military tasked to protect corporate interests across the globe).
Underneath the anti-human policies mentioned above is a subtle, and, at times, not so subtle, racism. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that President Trump is a racist. And white supremacists, Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame, David Duke of the KKK, and the white marchers that took to the streets of Charlottesville think so too. White America — eighty-two percent of white Evangelicals vote for Trump — overwhelmingly voted for President Winner. While this in and of itself isn’t proof that Trump is a racist — after all, the overwhelming majority of blacks for voted Barack Obama — the president’s speeches, policies, executive orders, and Tweets — despite the token blacks at his Ain’t I Wonderful pep rallies — reveal that the man is indeed someone who is, at the very least, indifferent to matters of race. While some on the left want to give the president the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he is a non-politician learning on the job, I am not one such person. Eight months of living in the swirling vortex of a Donald Trump presidency has shown me that the man is a racist.
If I had any doubts about Trump’s racism, events that have transpired over the last week have put an end to them. He is, without a doubt a racist. First, there’s the president’s verbal and Twitter attacks of black NFL and NBA players. My counselor and I were talking about this very matter today, and he asked me if I noticed how Trump artfully moved the reference point of discussion. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, it was to protest racial injustice and police brutality against people of color. Over the weekend, hundreds of black (and white) NFL athletes refused to stand for the National Anthem. Their reasons for protesting range from racial injustice and police violence against blacks to Trump calling them sons of bitches and demanding team owners fire them. Trump moved the discussion goalpost by changing the point of reference from race to patriotism. The protests had nothing to do with race, according to the president, and everything to do with disrespecting the American flag. Trump did the same thing when he was sharply criticized for his atrocious tone-deaf comments after the white-supremacist-driven carnage in Charlottesville. The protest wasn’t about race. Oh no, the marching whites in Charlottesville were protesting the left’s attack on their Southern way of life, complete with Confederate flags and Civil War monuments. By turning these protests on their head, Trump hopes to avoid being labeled a racist. Sadly, many of his followers have followed right along with him, asserting that neither they nor President Make-America-Great-Again are racist.
Want to see how racist many people in America still are? Just turn to the comment sections on news sites and blogs, or slog through posts and comments by Herr Donald supporters on social media, and you will see George Wallace-worthy — I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever — racism. From support of Trump’s racist immigration policies and his callous indifference to the suffering of non-white Puerto Rico to their defense of his on attack black athletes and whites who oppose his policies, these dog-whistle-hearing sycophants show that we are generations away from living in a post-racial society.
If you doubt these issues are about race, let Steven Colbert of The Late Show fame,The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Nick Wright from ESPN put your doubts to rest.
I am sixty-years old. I grew up in a flag-waving, John Birch Society-supporting, Evangelical home where racism was never far from the surface of day-to-day life. My parents moved to California in the 1960s. It was there that they were exposed to the virulent racism at the heart of American exceptionalism, Christian nationalism, and ideologies trumpeted by Richard Welch, Jr, the founder of the John Birch Society, 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and Democratic/Independent candidate George Wallace. I have no doubt that the preaching of their pastor, Tim LaHaye, from the pulpit of Scott Memorial Baptist Church helped to stoke my parents’ rage against blacks, Mexicans, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Black Panthers, the United Nations, Vietnam War protesters, and anyone and everyone who ran afoul of their white sensibilities.
None Dare Call It Treason, 2.2 million copies printed in 1964 alone
It should not be surprising, then, that their eldest son, picked up on and adopted their beliefs. As a first-grader in the San Diego public school system, I took several of my mother’s books to school, one of which was None Dare Call it Treason by John Stormer. One of the books had graphic photographs of violence perpetrated by Communist Russia. I primarily brought the book to school so I could show my fellow classmates the photos. My teacher quickly confiscated the books and sent them home with me at the end of the day with a note saying the books were to remain at home. I am sure my parents were proud of my preaching of right-wing gospel.
As a young adult, I frequently told racist jokes. While I often had to hide my racist views of blacks in public, in private conversations with fellow white restaurant managers I would lament the laziness of black employees. Even in our foster care provider days when we had a black teen girl living with us, I saw myself as a benevolent white out to help a helpless black girl. I was, without a doubt, the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser, warriors for all things Christian and white.
My views on race began to change while this black girl lived in our home. In 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. Needing local housing, we arranged to rent a farm-house from a retired teacher. The day we called to pick up the keys for the house, this virtuous pillar of all things Christian told us that she was going to rent the house to a family member instead. This, I later learned, was a lie. The truth was that she discovered we had a black foster child living with us, and according to someone who knew her well, she “wasn’t going to have a nigger living in her house.” We moved, instead, to New Lexington, thirteen miles south of Somerset. There we enrolled our foster daughter in the local public school. She was the only student of color in the school. Needless to say, this made her a target of racist rednecks who made her short stay there a living hell. Eventually, our foster daughter was returned to the system in hopes of her being placed in a home located in a more racially diverse area.
During the almost twelve years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, my understanding of the complexities of race and the systemic problems faced by people of color began to change. I wish I could say that I had a Damascus road experience and the racist blinders over my eyes immediately fell off, but alas I can’t. It took years and years for my racist tendencies to fade into the fabric of racial equality and inclusion. And even to this day, I am not certain that I am blind to skin color. Several weeks ago, I participated in forum discussion on the subject, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? (You can listen to the podcast here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.) My answer was, yes, and I gave several examples to bolster my point; that underneath the white Christian veneer of rural Ohioans is a latent Obama-hating, affirmative action-hating, racism waiting to be unleashed. Last November, seven out of ten voting locals voted for Donald Trump. Confederate flags were unfurled for all to see. Racism, once buried safely below rural respectability, was legitimized and encouraged to rise to the occasion. The result is there for all to see on social media and on the editorial page of the Defiance Crescent-News.
During the aforementioned forum discussion, I mentioned an example of how Mr. Progressive, Mr. Color Blind Bruce Gerencser still had deeply buried racist tendencies. Several months back, while driving by Galilee Baptist Church on Ottawa Street in Defiance, I remarked, that’s where blacks go to church. True, Galilee is primarily attended by blacks, but when I drove by the next dozen or so churches, why didn’t I say, that’s where whites go to church? This illustration might seem quaint or not worthy of mention in a discussion on racism, but to me, it revealed that I still, to some degree, saw things from a racist perspective. I suspect that I will spend the remaining days of my life continuing to root out deep-seated prejudices towards people of color.
My wife, Polly, grew up in a family where racism was multi-generational, especially on one side of her family. I don’t remember Polly’s parents making strong racist statements, but their view of blacks revealed itself when they negatively talked about “colored” people. Why was skin color germane to the stories? Does it matter whether the wino, homeless man, thief, or murderer was black? Shouldn’t the crime or behavior be the focus of discussion? Yes, that’s how it should have been, but a racial designation was always attached when the perpetrator was a person of color.
Over the years, Polly and I heard family members tell countless jokes and stories about blacks. Sometimes, the stories were about how their white churches, in a paternalistic way, helped out this or that black family or how the white colonialist missionaries they supported were helping poor, ignorant blacks see the truth of the white Jesus gospel. Several discussions revolved around whether missionaries should require new black converts to dress and behave like Western whites. The answer, of course, was yes. Western Christianity was viewed as superior to African and Caribbean norms. Women were expected to wear bras, men ties, and everyone was to sing hymns the way they were sung at First Baptist Church. Black culture was a problem to be eradicated, not embraced, and missionaries were tasked with westernizing — in Jesus’ name, of course — their target groups.
A recent social media dust-up I had with the sixteen-year-old son of Polly’s Fundamentalist preacher cousin made me realize that the racism in her family is multi-generational. In a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014, I talked about the 2010 Christmas gathering for her immediate family. I wrote:
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. The grandchild of one of Polly’s uncles asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us
Fast forward to 2017, the grandchild mentioned above is a Fundamentalist Christian teenager, a staunch supporter, as were the three generations before him, of right-wing extremism. Recently, the boy raged against those (blacks) who refuse to stand for the National Anthem during pre-game ceremonies at professional sporting events. The latest protests, which he perceived was dishonoring of the military, the American flag, and the Christian way of life, resulted in him attacking those who refused to stand.
Here’s what the boy posted several weeks back:
Several days ago, he posted a similar screed.
Generally, I treat Facebook as a place to hang out with like-minded family and friends. I avoid political and religious discussions, preferring to look at shared photographs and cat videos. If I happen to inadvertently befriend someone outside of our extended family who is a Trump supporter or a right-wing Christian extremist, I quickly unfriend them. Life is too short for me to spend time wading through rivers of Trumptastic bullshit. Things are, however, a bit more dicey with family members. Polly and I, by far, are more progressive and liberal than many of the people we call family. When it comes to religion, we are the only out-and-out unbelievers in the bunch. While a handful of family members voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, most of them vote Republican, and having had enough of the Kenyan-born socialist Obama, voted for Donald Trump over Clinton in 2016 (a few voted for Gary Johnson).
Knowing this about our extended family, I avoid political discussions with them, choosing to alternately laugh and cry over the lies and distortions they post on their Facebook walls. For whatever reason, yesterday I decided to respond to the aforementioned comments. Here’s what I said:
My response, predictably, brought out lit Tiki torches, resulting in this reply:
Let me summarize the boy’s argument:
There is no such thing as racism
There is no such thing as white privilege
Whites are the ones being discriminated against
I, foolishly thinking I could make a saint out of Malcom X at a KKK rally, replied:
Needless to say, the shit hit the proverbial fan and it is still, today, spraying across the social media. The boy told me I was ignorant, and the boy’s mother, with whom I have had several skirmishes over her ignorant posts about atheists, sent me a red-hot message, letting me know that my comments were out of line, that I was a bitter old man, and that their family was NOT racist — we know black people! I attempted to respond to her, but, by then, she had blocked me.
I would have asked her, if your family is not racist, where did your son get his abhorrent racist beliefs? Dad? Mom? Grandpa? Church? (I featured the racist comments of one woman who attends the church this boy’s father pastors in a post titled, Christian Fundamentalist Shares the Sweet, Sweet Love of Jesus on Facebook. This boy did not come up with these beliefs in a vacuüm. He was taught these things in word and deed.
Needless to say, this Facebook altercation destroyed what little relationship Polly or I had with this particular family. And that’s fine. Perhaps, one day this boy will have an epiphany about his views on patriotism and race, along with his views on LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, liberalism, and socialism, and vaguely remember his curmudgeonly old “bitter” atheist cousin once removed and his attempts to show him a better way. For now, he remain a textbook example of how racism and bigotry can affect multiple generations of people — even those who, with infectious smiles, say, Jesus loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life.
For those of you who are still talking to your uber-patriotic, flag-waving Republican/Evangelical/Conservative/Right-Wing/Tea-Party friends and family, how have they responded to Donald Trump’s racist comments and protests by black NFL players? Please share your pithy thoughts in the comment section. If you are a supporter of dotard Donald Trump, don’t bother. I’m all Trumped out.
I am someone who is committed to social and economic progress for all Americans. I oppose racism, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia wherever they are found, including in the groups and political parties I support. Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have left me increasingly feeling as if I am a stranger in this blessed land of ours. Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists — some of whom were armed with assault rifles — marched in the streets as if we still lived in the 1950s. Counter-protesters pushed back at this vile and ugly display of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon-inspired white nationalism, but I was dismayed to see photographs of people who supposedly have much in common Martin Luther King, Jr. carrying firearms and resorting to violence to get their message across. During President Obama’s eight years in office, great strides were made in areas such as gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage. As a liberal, I thought, better days lie ahead. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and others who hold Democratic Socialist values, the plight of American workers will be improved, health care will be reformed and expanded, and the economic stranglehold the rich and corporations have on the working class will be broken. I naïvely thought that the influence of lobbyists and corporate donations on our political process would finally be ended. Instead, white and Evangelical America rose up and voted Donald Trump into office — the most inept, unqualified man to ever be elected president. Overnight, President Trump has rolled back decades of social progress, dumped billions of dollars of new money into the military-industrial complex, attacked minorities, and used the power of the Federal government to persecute and deport people who are in the United States illegally. Worse yet, President Trump has increased troop levels in the Middle East, threatened to attack Iran and Venezuela, and has us on the cusp of nuclear war with North Korea. And now it is increasingly likely that the President and/or people closely associated with him colluded with Russia to subvert our democratic process.
I find the current state of affairs to be quite depressing, so I try to do things that distract my mind from Trumpmania. Last Saturday, Polly and I, along with our oldest daughter, drove to Napoleon, Ohio to attend the Henry County Fair. We met our two oldest sons and their families at the fair. My sons love tractor pulls, and since Polly and I had never attended such an event, I thought attending the NTPA — (National Tractor Pullers Association) sanctioned tractor pull would be a delightful distraction. Little did I know that Christian nationalism would be front and center at the pull.
It comes as no surprise that the crowd was white. During the four-plus hours I sat in the stands, I saw all of one black person. An Asian family sat in back of us for a short while, but after having their fill of high-horsepowered machines, they got up and left. Prior to the start of the event, I expected the announcer would ask everyone to stand, remove their hats, place their right hands over their hearts, and face the flag as someone screeched out the Star Spangled Banner. While I personally despise the singing of the National Anthem (and God Bless America) at sporting events — a tradition dating back to the World Wars — I acquiesce, removing my hat and placing it over my heart. Unfortunately, minutes — long, painful minutes — before the singing of the National Anthem, the announcer launched into a diatribe better suited for the brown shirts In Charlottesville who were, at the same time, showing their support for nationalism, militarism, and Christianity.
First, the announcer had everyone stand, remove their hats, and place their right hands over their hearts, not for the singing of the National Anthem, but for the saying of a sectarian prayer to the Christian God. He demanded everyone conform, and then launched into a full-blown — are we at an Evangelical church? — masturbatory prayer to Jesus. The prayer was completed with the announcer saying, and all God’s people said AMEN. The stands reverberated with an orgasmic AMEN! with virtually everyone around me lending their vocal approval. No shock here. This is rural Northwest Ohio, the land of Christian God, guns, American militarism, and overt displays of nationalism.
Having attended countless sporting events over the years, I have had to listen to innumerable inane, stupid — and at times hilarious — Christian prayers. I was not, however, ready for what happened next. Once the prayer was finished, the announcer asked everyone to remain standing for the next ritual, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Before leading the crowd in a profession of fealty to the United States and to the Christian God, the announcer went on a several minute-long harangue about how great America was, how awesome our military was, and how parents need to teach their children the importance of blind, nationalistic patriotism.
Once the Pledge of Allegiance was duly uttered, it was time for the singing of the National Anthem. I thought, finally escape looms near. Unfortunately, everyone in attendance was forced to listen to part three of the announcer’s Ain’t ‘merica Great sermon first, and then the appointed singer sang the National Anthem. Thinking my hell on earth was finally over, I started to sit down, only to find out that the announcer wasn’t done. Since there were Canadians in attendance at the tractor pull, it was deemed appropriate to play the Canadian National Anthem. Thankfully, no one was called on to sing O Canada.
As I always do when attending sporting events, I refused to remove my hat for the praying of the prayer to the Christian God. This God is not my God, and I find such displays of sectarianism at events open to the public offensive. As far as I could see in front of me and to the left and right, I was the only man who refused to uncover his head. The saying of the Pledge of Allegiance elicited the same response from me. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to America, its flag, or the Christian God. I know the saying of the Pledge has its roots in the anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s. As a Christian, I refused to say the pledge because my only allegiance was to Jesus. These days, I refuse because of the connection of the Pledge to nationalism and militarism.
I am sure some readers might wonder how, constitutionally, the announcer could get by with the sectarian prayer and sermonizing. Ohio county fairs are actually private events. Agricultural boards rent the fairgrounds from their respective counties and are free to do whatever they want. I learned this years ago when I got into a skirmish in Southeast Ohio with the Perry County sheriff and county fair officials. I had gone, along with a group of people from the church I pastored at the time, to the fairgrounds to hand out tracts and preach. The local sheriff, with whom I had a running battle, threatened to arrest me if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing and leave the fairgrounds. I refused, threatening both him and the fair board with a lawsuit for violating my first amendment rights. They backed down, but a few weeks later I received a letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me the Ohio fairs were private events and as such I could be arrested for trespassing if I continued to hand out tracts and preach. Ironically, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) was permitted to have on fair property a train caboose-like vehicle they used to trap children into watching movies or other forms of entertainment so they then could be evangelized. (At the Henry County Fair, there was a man preaching and handing out tracts. He was allowed to do so unmolested.)
The tractor pull itself was quite entertaining, and both Polly and I enjoyed watching the loud, thunderous machines pull a weighted sled down the track. My sons informed me that this Saturday’s NTPA national event at the Wood County fairgrounds in Bowling Green, Ohio will even be worse when it comes to worship of the Christian God and the promotion of American exceptionalism and nationalism. Not only will there be a prayer and a pledge, there will also be the playing of numerous patriotic country songs. The songs of flag-wavers such as Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood will blare across the pull grounds, as men and women who proudly wear the redneck label thank God for horsepower and the smell of racing fuel. I’ll pass, thank you.
It was ten after four as I pulled into the Bryan High School parking lot. I arrived thirty minutes before game time so I could make sure that I had a first-row seat for the night’s slate of basketball games between the Swanton Bulldogs and the Bryan Golden Bears. Bethany, my daughter with Down Syndrome, was with me. Armed with pens and spiral notebooks, she spent the night drawing pictures and entertaining those who sat nearby.
I brought my camera equipment with me. I ALWAYS bring my cameras, feeling naked on those rare occasions when I leave them at home. I love watching high school basketball games. I am reminded of a time long ago — forty years ago now — when a young redhead boy sprinted up and down the court, hoping his meager effort would lead to a team victory. Never a great player, I still love the machinations of the game. Tonight’s varsity match was a blowout until late in the fourth quarter when Swanton mounted a comeback. A flurry of shots fell through the net, trimming Bryan’s lead to eight. I wondered, would Swanton find a way to snatch victory out of jaws of defeat? Alas, it was not to be. Swanton lost all three games — ninth grade, junior varsity, and varsity. My cousin’s son plays on Swanton’s ninth grade team. He, statistically, had a great game, but his fellow teammates did not.
I knew that tonight was going to be difficult me. It was Veteran’s Night — an opportunity for locals to recognize and applaud veterans for their service. Surrounding me were fans wearing Trump tee shirts and hats, along with hundreds of people wearing flag apparel. These are the same people who would be outraged if I burnt a flag, demanding my arrest for violating the “flag code.” Lost on them are their own violations of the code with their Trumpesque accoutrements.
The public address announcer let the crowd know that the pregame events would begin with the Bryan band playing God Bless America. Everyone stood to their feet as the band began to play America’s second national anthem. Those near me put hands over their hearts, and several of them lustfully sang the words made infamous by the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
I did not stand, silently voicing my disapproval of the insertion of Christianity into a secular public high school event. It is not easy for me to do so. I can feel the stares, and in the past I have had people rebuke me for not giving Jesus his due. I remind those who dare to challenge me that I am an atheist and a secularist. Why should I give reverence to a mythical deity or show my support for those who care little for the separation of church and state.
Once the Christian Tabernacle Choir® finished with their hymn of praise and worship to America’s God, it was time to move on to the patriotic portion of the pregame events. The announcer asked all the veterans in attendance to stand while the rest of us stayed seated. Dozens of veterans stood as people cheered and young millennials ran to them, giving them high fives and thanking them for their service. I did not clap, hoping that since we were seated no one would notice my lack of applause. Alas, I was quickly outed as the crowd rose to its feet, applauding and cheering those who were lucky enough not to return home in a body bag. Their raucous applause went on for several minutes.
I was the only person not standing. Across the way stood my uncle, a veteran of the Vietnam War. I am sure my refusal to participate in the night’s glorification of American militarism offended him. However, he knows that my refusal to do so is a matter of principle for me. I resolutely stand in opposition American imperialism and militarism. My refusal to stand is me saying that I oppose America’s continued involvement in violent, unwinnable wars in the Middle East. Without soldiers, politicians would not be able to stuff American exceptionalism down the throats of the world. Most of all I refuse to stand because I don’t want one more drop of blood shed in my name. I don’t want American men and women dying just so I can have the “freedom” to watch basketball games. I will gladly not watch another sporting event if it means no more violence, carnage, and bloodshed. How dare we cheapen military deaths with empty words about freedom and the American way of life. Enough! I say, to the endless violence and destruction.
After the veterans were seated, it was time for the playing of the National Anthem. As is my custom, I stood, removed my hat, and held it over my heart with my right hand. As the band played, I turned my gaze to the flag and quietly sang the Anthem. A tear trickled down my cheek as I pondered what has become of the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 deeply wounded the psyche of Christian nationalists. Thinking that the United States had favored nation status with God, these white, middle-class, Republican, Evangelical Christians thought that our country was invincible. The Christian nation myth is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is almost impossible to get Evangelicals to see and understand the facts of the matter — that the United States is a schoolyard bully that uses violence and extortion to advance its globalist agenda. No, no, no, the United States is a Christian nation, says Evangelicals. We are a good, kind, and loving people who want what’s best for the world. Best being, of course, Christianity and capitalism. From its earliest days, United States has used violence to conquer all those who oppose her. One need only to look to the Middle East to see that the United States still thinks that bombs and bullets are the best way to settle any conflict. Even more troubling is the fact that millions of Americans plan on voting for a man who not only embraces the use of violence but wants to expand its use, going so far as to suggest that the United States needs to drop nuclear bombs on its enemies
These violence-loving Christians — thinking that the United States is some sort of global dispenser of God’s justice — are increasingly incensed over what they perceive to be a lack of fealty to their version of the Christian God. Ignoring the fact that the United States is a secular state, flag-waving Evangelicals demand that their God and their religion be given preferential treatment. Any pushback from atheists, humanists, secularists, or Christians who support the separation of church and state is viewed as persecution. Pretty soon the Christmas season will be upon us, and social media, along with Faux News, will be filled with stories about the “war on Christmas.” Businesses that don’t have their employees say Merry Christmas to their customers are viewed as anti-Christian. The same story is played out over and over throughout the year as Evangelicals whine, scream, and complain about the supposed secularist takeover of America. Again, facts don’t matter. Christians feel threatened by the restoration of the proper place of the separation of church and state in our government institutions, and instead of realizing that Christianity actually benefits from this, Evangelicals attempt to force God on people through public displays of Christian power. One such display is the singing of God Bless America at sporting events.
Last Friday, I attended the Wayne Trace-Tinora high school football game. A few minutes before game time, Wayne Trace’s marching band came on the field to play what I thought would be the Star-Spangled Banner. Imagine my surprise when they played, not the national anthem, but God Bless America. Fans on both sides of the field stood, removed their hats, and placed their hands over the hearts as the band played America’s new national anthem. I, for one, did not stand, nor did I take my hat off or put my hand over my heart. I find such displays of Christian nationalism to be offensive and I refuse to give my tacit support to anything that promotes the America-is-a-Christian-Nation myth.
After the playing of God Bless America, the band played the Star-Spangled Banner. At that moment, I stood, removed my hat, placed my hand over my heart, and quietly mouthed the words to the national anthem. While I’m not a big fan of singing the national anthem at sporting events, I recognize doing so is an attempt to express the common patriotic bond Americans have with one another. Personally, I wish they’d stop singing the national anthem, especially since in recent years its singing has often been used to advance militarism and display American military prowess. How else can we explain the use of military personnel to unfurl the flag or the Air Force jet flyovers as the anthem is being sung?
Several years ago, I attended a Sunday service at a Lutheran Church outside of Newark Ohio. As part of its worship service — I kid you not — the pastor led the congregation in singing the national anthem and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I thought, at the time, how ironic to see this in a Lutheran Church. Seventy-five years ago, such displays of Christian nationalism were common in Hitler’s Germany. Both the Lutheran and Catholic churches played a significant part in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. It is not beyond the pale of human imagination to see the same thing happening in the United States if Donald Trump is elected president. Like Hitler, Trump is not a Christian, but he is smart enough to see that Christian nationalism can be used to advance his political agenda. Evangelicals in particular have been manipulated and used by the Republican Party for the past 40 years. And once again, in 2016, they are being used to advance a pernicious agenda that could lead to World War III. And what will these God-fearing, flag-waving Christians do when war comes to the shores of the United States? Why, they will wave their flags, sing God Bless America, and with great pride pledge their allegiance to America’s Christian God.